Breaking the tradition of Orientalist representations of Morocco and the Arab World at large, Morrison’s travelogue leans towards objectivity in its depictions of the country’s land, people, and culture.
Alice Morrison is a British journalist and traveler who has a great penchant for exploration and extreme challenges. Growing up in Uganda and Ghana, Morrison freelanced as a journalist across North Africa and the Middle East for the BBC and other prominent media outlets, before finally settling in Morocco.
What distinguishes Morrison’s travel account is a heightened cultural awareness and belief in cultural relativism.
First published in 2019, Morrison’s book is a ten-chapter descriptive account of Morocco through her eyes. She traces her travels and sojourns in various Moroccan cities and villages and enshrines her observations and memories of the people, places, landscapes, cuisine, and scents of this ancient vibrant kingdom.
Morrison originally intended to spend only four months in Morocco to train for and participate in the Marathon des Sables, an ultramarathon across the Sahara. But, somehow, she found herself living among Moroccans indefinitely. Using a simple style embellished with witty humor and clever details, the book is so easy to navigate that readers feel as if they are traveling through Morocco alongside Morrison.
Inspired by travelers like Gertrude Bell and driven by the desire to discover and understand cultural alterity, Morrison roamed Morocco from north to south and from east to west, crisscrossed the Sahara Desert, and flung herself into remote villages, jagged mountains, and winding souks, where she encountered shepherds, nomads, peddlers, snake charmers, monkey wranglers, street vendors, and people from all different walks of life.
Adopting the ethnographic participant observation approach, she entered right into the heart and spirit of the country, unraveled its mysteries, revealed its empowering cultural and ethnic diversity, and made good friends at every juncture.
What distinguishes Morrison’s travel account from other previous 19th and early 20th-century British female travelers’ accounts of Morocco is her heightened cultural awareness and belief in cultural relativism. The book does not exoticise Morocco, nor does it contain hasty ethnocentric judgments about its people or set the Western subject as a role model and reference.
Morrison’s unmistakable appreciation of Moroccan culture – to the extent of amazement on many occasions – is an expression of the author’s unbiased background. Morrison, therefore, breaks a consistent tradition of cultural representation in which the mere act of interacting with the natives was considered dishonorable, as it posed a threat to Britishness and British cultural values.
The word “race,” which is heavily deployed in Orientalist writings to set the Oriental subject as the racial antithesis of the Western one, is used 32 times in the book, but only to refer to the sports competition Morrison had partaken in. The racial divisions forged by colonial discourse and championed by many Western travelers as dogma to warrant hegemony and imperialism have no place in Morrison’s travel narrative.
“I want to tell the stories that bring us, humans, together rather than the ones that drive us apart.”
To her, the human race is one. “We live in a time when the world is in crisis in so many ways. I want to bear witness to what is happening to the planet as our climate and our society change and I want to tell the stories that bring us, humans, together rather than the ones that drive us apart,” she writes.
Unlike her previous compatriots such as Margaret Thomas, Isabella Bird, Frances Macnab, Mary Kingsley, Amelia Perrier, Isabel Savory, Elisabeth Murry, and others who tended to obscure the history of the country and lay focus on Orientalist tropes and metaphors, Morrison recognizes instead the long and rich history of Morocco by giving much space in her book to admiringly account for the different dynasties that ruled the country ever since the Idrissids more than 12 centuries ago.
Whenever she enters a city, she searches for its history and presents it in a way to make it palpable and understandable for the readers, so they know when it was founded, who founded it, the respective empires who ruled over it, and its independence. The chapters entitled Fez; Tangier and the Pirate Coast; Chefchaouen and the Rif; and Essaouira are laden with historical commentary, yet without casting aspersion on any aspect of this history.
However, the author is well aware that she may make mistakes in her historical accounts.
“These are my stories, so you will find a lot of me in them, or at least Morocco as seen and understood through my eyes,” she writes. “I have included the history I have encountered along the way, although it is definitely my interpretation of it as it applies to what I see and not an academic analysis – any errors are my own.”
Morrison’s Moroccan travel narrative is a delight for the senses. After reading the book, readers feel as if they were on this journey through Morocco with her. Morrison’s inventive story-telling skills bring this North African country to life with vivid descriptions of colors, sounds, tastes, and smells. Her accounts may very well be the antithesis to Orientalism.
The hospitality of Morocco’s people and the receptivity of Morrison resulted in exemplary transcultural relationships in which neither cultural difference nor national ethnicity was an obstacle to cross-cultural understanding. Whether you have been to Morocco before or not, this book will make you fall in love not only with this fascinating country but also with the intrepid personality of Alice Morrison and her many tales and adventures in Morocco, from the souks to the Sahara.
Editor’s note: While the interior of the book remains the same, the exterior may be cause for confusion for some readers. The hardcover and paperback editions of Morrison’s book sport completely different book cover images and titles. “My 1001 Nights Tales and Adventures from Morocco” 2019 hardcover is also titled “Adventures in Morocco From the Souks to the Sahara,” in the 2020 paperback version, a discrepancy that may make purchasing the book more difficult. Inside Arabia reached out to the author for clarification but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
 Alice Morrison, My 1001 Nights: Tales and Adventures from Morocco (London: Simon and Schuster, 2019), p. 10.